The Incredible Neo-Impressionism Painter Georges Pierre Seurat

Georges Pierre Seurat is a wonderful French neo-impressionist most famous for creating Pointillism art (paintings created by thousands of dots!!! )

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Pierre Seurat
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Pierre Seurat, 1884 [Public Domain]

Childhood

Georges Pierre Seurat was born in Paris, in 1859, and into a wealthy family. In 1870 the family temporarily relocated to Fontainebleau, where they stayed during the Franco-Prussian War. It was during this period that young Seurat began an interest in art.

Early Training & Influences

The start of Seurat’s artistic career followed a traditional path. In Paris he studied art at the prestigious École des Beaux-Arts, where he studied the classicial masterpieces of early Italian and 17th-century French artists in the Louvre.

In April 1879, Seurat visited the Fourth Impressionist exhibition. This was the first time that he saw the paintings of Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro.  It was an eye-opener for him to see artists so liberated from the rigidities of academic rules of those times. This greatly influenced his later experimentation.

Another big influence on Seurat’s style was from the color theory of Michel-Eugène Chevreul. This theory stated that by juxtaposing complementary colors one could produce the impression of another color. This scientific theory became the foundation for Seurat’s paintings and for the neo-impressionism (pointillism) art movement.

Port-en-Bessin, Normandy - Georges Pierre Seurat
Port-en-Bessin, Normandy – Georges Pierre Seurat [Public domain]

Seurat & Neo-Impressionism

In the latter part of the 19th century, painters were introduced to the science of optics and color. These optics and color theories forged a new method of painting that abandoned the spontaneity and romanticism of the impressionists.

Relying on the viewer’s capacity to optically fuse the dots of color on the canvas, the Neo-Impressionists strove to create more radiant paintings that depicted modern life.

Many artists, including Seurat, adopted the Neo-Impressionist technique of Pointillism, the application of tiny dots of pigment, which opened the door to further explorations of color and eventually abstract art.

Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.
– Quote Georges Pierre Seurat

Mature Period

Seurat began to apply his theoretical scientific research to his paintings. His first major project was the Bathers at Asnières (1884). This painting is largely rendered in a criss-cross brushstroke technique known as balayé and was later re-touched by Seurat with dots of contrasting color in certain areas.

Bathers at Asnières By Georges Pierre Seurat
Bathers at Asnières By Georges Pierre Seurat – Pointillism Art [Public Domain]

Seurat submitted Bathers to the Paris Salon in 1883, but the jury rejected it. Subsequently, Seurat and several other artists founded the Société des Artistes Indépendants, enabling him to exhibit Bathers in June of 1884. There he met and befriended fellow artist Paul Signac who was greatly influenced by Seurat’s techniques.

Late Period

The exhibition of La Grande Jatte in 1886 exposed Seurat’s work internationally. Soon after the exhibition, Seurat was mentioned in an avant-garde review and some of his paintings were shown by the renowned art dealer Paul Durant-Ruel in both Paris and New York City.

Seurat lived in Paris but spent one summer on the Normandie coast, in the small, medieval port town of Honfleur. He went to clear his vision, or, as he put it, to “wash the light of the studio” from his eyes.

In winter he finished these magnificent paintings of the Honfleur seascapes. Painted in his Pointillist style, the dots tended to be finer and more spaced out, giving the paintings a more spontaneous appearance.

The Harbour of Honfleur - Georges Pierre Seurat
The Harbour of Honfleur – Georges Pierre Seurat

In 1889, Seurat met Madeleine Knobloch, a 20-year-old model, and started secretly living with her. Knobloch gave birth to a son in February 1890, without the knowledge of his friends and family.

At his exhibition in the Salon des Indépendants the same year, Seurat showed his only known portrait of Madeleine Knobloch: Young Woman Powdering Herself.

Georges Pierre Seurat painting
Portrait of his lover Madeleine Knobloch – Georges Pierre Seurat
Young Woman Powdering Herself [Public Domain]

On March 26, 1891, Seurat fell suddenly ill with a fever and died three days later, at the young age of 31. Georges Pierre Seurat is buried at the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Seurat’s Legacy

Georges Pierre Seurat was only 31 when he died, yet he left behind an influential body of work, comprising seven huge paintings, hundreds of drawings and sketches, and around 40 smaller-scale paintings and sketches.

Although his overall creative output was relatively small in quantity, his paintings have a lasting impact. He was among the first artists to make a systematic and devoted use of the color theory, and his technical innovations influenced many of his peers.

When the term Neo-Impressionism was coined, it was used to describe Seurat, Signac and Pissarro‘s new style of painting and their rejection of the spontaneity of Impressionism.

Seurat even today, is still cited by the art academics when discussing the visual effects of color, form, and light.

His paintings are hung in some of the most prestigious art museums all over the world. If you are in Paris, there is a great collection of some of Seurat’s beautiful paintings in the Musee D’Orsay. 

Georges Pierre Seurat painting
Seascape at Port-en-Bessin, Normandy – Georges Pierre Seurat [Public Domain]

Van Gogh – an admirer of Seurat

Van Gogh admired the work of Georges Seurat, whom he met in 1887. Just before leaving for Arles on 19 February 1888, Vincent visited Seurat in his studio for the first time with his brother Theo. He probably saw the large paintings A Sunday on La Grande Jatte and The Models there.

Self Portrait of Van Gogh using the Pointillism technique
Van Gogh & Pointillism

From then on, in his letters to Theo, he often asked after Seurat and his fascination of Seurat’s technique of pointillism.

At a later stage, Van Gogh even dabbled a few times with this technique, mostly for experimentation. The use of this technique is evident in a few of Van Gogh’s self portraits.